Nikomas Perez

Keeping Their Attention

by on in Experience.
attention

If you have ever had to speak to a room full of Middle Schoolers, you know how daunting the task is. They’re the hardest age group to speak to! It’s like they have the attention span of a… well, a Middle Schooler! And if you’re boring, they’ll let you know!

Bored adults can listen to a 30-minute sermon without stealing the cute boy’s hat. They won’t go to the bathroom every five minutes, just to get out of the room. Adults sit there and respectfully smile. They’re easy! Middle Schoolers? Well, when you lose their attention it’s obvious! And once you lose them, you have to know how to get them back.

Over the years I have picked up a few stylistic tips and tricks to re-grab a middle schoolers attention. Here are a few worth trying in your next message:

1. DITCH THE MANUSCRIPT

I have never seen manuscripts work with Middle Schoolers. They may help you sound more polished, but students will pay closer attention when you’re chatting with them instead of reading to them. Script your opening and closing, but outline the rest. You’ll be able to make more eye contact, it’ll feel more conversational and in the end, and it will hold their attention much longer.

2. INVITE INTERACTION

As you talk, invite students to do more than listen. For example, when you’re going to talk about a specific word in a Bible verse, invite interaction by saying “Put your finger on this word…” When you’re going to say something profound tell them, “Write this down…” When you’re going to read a short verse, tell them “Read this out loud with me…” Giving little prompts throughout your message will give their busy little bodies something to do besides just listening.

3. LET STUDENTS TELL THEIR STORIES

Your students love it when you tell stories about yourself, but do you know what they love even more? Stories about THEMSELVES! Let’s say you are going to introduce a topic by telling a story about a time you failed, invite students to turn to a neighbor and tell their failure stories first. After a minute of discussion, ask a student to share their story with the whole group. Then, when they are done continue on with your story.

4. DON’T GET INTO A RHYTHM

Rhythms are predictable and predictability is the first step to boredom. If your messages are always loud, or if you’re sitting the whole time, you’ve probably gotten into a predictable rhythm. Try to shake up your rhythm as you speak. Speak loudly, then softly. Sit down, and then stand up! After making them laugh, bring them to tears. (Don’t do this all at the same time, or you’ll give them whiplash!) With each unpredictable turn you regain their attention.

Those are just a few tips that I use when speaking to middle schoolers. So, what other stylistic approaches have you seen work? Lets hear your tips in the comment section below!

  • Chad Dillon

    I have even broken my message into parts. I will end with a cliff hanger and do something else like a game or discussion time then finish the message.

    • Nikomas

      Like a Good Friday message…Jesus dies, but I’m not going to tell you the ending until Easter sunday! Do you finish the message that day or the following week?

  • Chris Nelson

    I totally agree with all of these. I would add (with #2) anytime you can get a student in front to interact with the message in some way besides just telling a story (acting something out, playing out an illustration, come open this box and tell us all what is in it, ect…) and also our students really respond to any use of technology (text in a your responses to this question and we will share some of them, if you have any questions during the message text them in and we will address a few, tag us in an instagram pic that best represents the theme of this series, etc..) The technology one is really huge for us because they have to listen and engage in order to have questions or know the theme, and they feel like they play a part in the direction that the message takes, plus it’s fun!

    • Nikomas

      I really like the “tag us in an instagram pic that best represents the theme of this series” idea. Gonna have to use that one!

  • Ryan Perez

    When a message is immediately relevant to an audience, they are more likely to be motivated and able to focus on the content of the message. A message that lacks relevance or one that is only relevant in the long-term is received peripherally. You should check out research on the Elaboration Likelihood Model.

    • Nikomas

      Just wikipedia’ed it!

  • Christopher McKenna

    Great ideas! Simple things, as you’ve mentioned above, really help to re-engage their attention. It sounds obvious, but they also need a variety of voices from the front – sometimes the same message from a new voice makes it click. Male and female. Even if a leader just comes up to share a quick, 5-minute story, and then hands the mic back over, it re-engages them. We’ve also almost done totally away with the “30-minute sermon” for our middle school audience. We teach for about 15 minutes, they break off for a 5 minute “Blitz” time with leaders spread out around the room in groups of 10 (timer on the screen counting down, guided questions in bulletin), they jump back into their seats for 10 more minutes of teaching, then they end with about 8 minutes back in those groups. Gets them up, moving, discussing, applying in the moment, and it allows MORE adults into the lives of these kids. Do I lose a bit of time in the transitions? Sure, but it’s worth it. We don’t do it every week (going along with your #4), but often. The amount of time discussing or the number of times we break off can also vary. It requires a lot more volunteers, but this is where I’ve used a huge number of high school leaders who are learning valuable skills in facilitating group discussions. My kids just seem to long for more participation and interaction and it seems to be feeding that.

    • Nikomas

      Great thoughts! I think you’re right on. I think we’ve lost interaction with the message in the modern day church. That’s why I love, love, love small groups. But the more interaction we can include in the messages the more sticky it’ll be.